We woke up before the sun rose on Sunday morning, faint traces of dawn beckoning us awake. I rubbed my eyes and set my body to autopilot, climbing out of bed and dragging on the clothes that I had set out the night before. My husband and I were meeting some friends for a day hike in Shenandoah National Park, our first one of the season.
The hike that we chose was Cedar Run Falls near Syria, Virginia: I scanned some reviews on the AllTrails app (a must-have for any wanderer) and grew nervous after reading that the climb was strenuous. Although the climb is shorter, the elevation gain is quite intense at 2,247 ft. One reviewer wrote, “Warning: Do NOT attempt this one if you are even remotely out of shape.” An amateur wilderness enthusiast at best, I packed my inhaler, donned my most durable hiking shoes, and set out on the road with a hope and a prayer.
We picked up our friends, stopped at a gas station for water and snacks, and arrived at the park around 7:30AM. The small lot was pretty quiet and we were immediately thankful for the early start. Since this trail is in Shenandoah territory, we did have to pay a park fee. (I purchased an annual pass for all national parks and cannot be more excited! With the pandemic still sweeping the country, smaller, shorter day and road trips may be our only getaway destination this year.)
Many of the app reviews note that the heavy climb is on the way back, but we found a way to reverse it. We opted to get the hard part over with first, relax in the swimming hole, then finish the hike with the easier descent.
To start at the Whiteoak Falls Boundary to Cedar Run Falls, plug this address into your GPS:
Whiteoak Canyon Lower Parking Lot: 187 Chad Berry Lane, Syria, VA 22743
I absolutely adored this trail because it was picturesque throughout the entire hike. Waterfalls and streams were within eye and earshot from start to finish- we even crossed a fairly large waterway, climbing on rocks and fallen tree to get to the other side of the trail. (Make sure you wear-resistant shoes; Depending on the intensity of the falls, you could find yourself stepping over runoff, puddles, muddy paths, etc.) The trail is also mostly shaded, providing some relief from the August sun.
The climb up was definitely difficult at times: Not unmanageable, but we did take breaks after swift rises in elevation. Aside from a few travelers and handful of early morning swimmers, we were alone to set our own pace and enjoy uninhabited views.
When we got to the top of Cedar Run Falls, we were met with the ultimate prize: A large, bottomless swimming hole and a cascade “slide” for easy entry. It had just rained so the water was aggressively moving downstream, but we were eager to partake in Nature’s playground. Thankfully, the pool wasn’t crowded: The only other couple wading became our cheerleaders for the slide activity.
The water was FRIGID but after a while, refreshing. I almost chickened out on skating down the falls, the currant looked a little too robust for my liking. But after seeing everyone else’s elation, I decided to give it a try. My mind went blank for the 10-seconds it took to skim the smooth rock- I somehow managed to grab my nose in time for the plunge. I cannot explain precisely just how cold the water was- A phenomenon that knocked the wind out of me, upon impact. But once my head poked out of the pool and I made my way to solid rock, I could not stop shouting for joy. During a year of quiet, subdued, safe surroundings and situations, it felt utterly exhilarating to once again taste adrenaline and extreme accomplishment.
By the time we left the pool, it was around 10:30AM and crowds were starting to file in. As we were going down the mountain, at times we needed to step aside to let others pass. Everyone was nice though and either had a mask on and/or kept a safe distance.
The route we hiked took 3.5 hours to complete, including our stop for swimming. We clocked 4 miles roundtrip; The hike was out- and –back so the descent took us far less time. I appreciated the easier trek on the way back, could not imagine going uphill after being wet and tired from the swim.
I haven’t done many Shenandoah hikes, but they are now all on my list: I will try my best to document them here and answer any questions that you have. Together, we can navigate the great outdoors and triumph over this unexpected, unpredictable year.
What are some other trails you have hiked in Northern Virginia, in Shenandoah National Park? Tell me your favorites in the comments below!